Thankfully Only a Few Countries Require Americans and Canadians to Apply in Advance
“The value of your travels does not hinge on how many stamps you have in your passport when you get home.”
How Do You Get International Tourist Visas?
One of the more trying aspects of long-term, round the world travel for most Fifty-Plus Nomad, is when you have to apply for tourist visas before you begin your travel.
Fortunately, fewer countries are requiring tourists to apply in advance for visas than in the past. In addition, many of the countries that require visas in advance now allow you to apply online directly from the country’s Consulate or Embassy.
If you can apply online, you usually have to submit a digital photo, a scanned copy of your passport, pay a fee and fill out an online form. Sometimes, you will also have to provide your electronic flight itinerary as well.
Some large countries (most noticeably India, China, and Russia) require you to submit your application to the consulate nearest to your legal address.
I have had some problems with this requirement. My legal address is in California. However, I am seldom physically there. I applied for an Indian visa in San Francisco but was physically in Montreal. To avoid problems and delays, I used a visa service that submitted the application in San Francisco and then sent my passport and visa to Montreal. The consulate would have sent it only to my legal address near San Francisco.
You can also usually apply to the country’s consulate or embassy in person in the US or Canada. Often, they will have the visa ready the day after you apply. One advantage of applying in person is that you will know if there is a problem with any documentation or photos immediately. Then, you can correct the problem right away.
Some countries require you to submit the visa application by mail or in person. (They do not allow you to apply online). If you apply for a visa by mail, it usually takes at least a week to process the application. You will often have to send the passport along with the application. So make sure that you won’t need your passport when the Consulate or Embassy is processing your application.
When is it Complicated to Get a Visa and What to Do When it Gets Complicated?
Russia requires US citizens to submit a letter of invitation along with the other application requirements. If you are going with a tour company, they will be able to help with this quickly. If not, many online agencies will issue these letters on your behalf for a fee. (I cannot vouch for the quality of these services).
Some consulate websites, like the Bolivian and Tanzanian consulate, make it sound like you need to apply directly to the consulate in your home country to get a visa. However, if you do a bit more research, you will find that most travelers get that visa upon entry to the country.
That said, these countries can make it a bit difficult to get a visa on arrival. Sometimes there is a limited number of border crossings and airports that can issue the visa on arrival. Often you will be required to submit some of the same things you would need for a traditional visa, such as photos. The only consistent requirement that I can find is that you need to have exact change in US dollars (usually well over $100) to pay for the visa. (All these warnings aside, I had minimal difficulty getting a Bolivian visa on arrival at the airport in La Paz).
Visa Processing Companies
I would encourage you to consider using their services, especially whenever you:
- Are going to visit several countries.
- Are applying for a visa by mail but will not be at your home address when you apply for the visas. (Most consulates will only send the passport back to your home address).
- Applying for a visa for a country that is well known for its bureaucracy (mainly India, Russia, and China).
- Need to get a visa quickly.
- Want to make sure that your application is complete before submittal. (I find that I get nervous about potential problems with photos, etc.).
I have used these services three times in my life and have been very happy with their service. The additional fees are modest. The visa companies were able to get the visas much quicker and more efficiently than I could.
A Final Note on Complicated Visas
You can find first-hand comments about visas by reading travelers’ comments online. I find the most reliable comments on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum.
Read these comments carefully, particularly if you plan on getting a visa on arrival when the requirements are not all that clear (i.e., Bolivia). Pay attention to the date these comments were posted, as visa rules change quickly and without much notice.
Even though tourist visas can be a pain, we are lucky to be Americans or Canadians. Generally, the US and Canada make it quite difficult for Third World residents to demonstrate that they intend to return to their home country.
In addition, every year, fewer countries require the US and Canadian citizens to apply for visas. (In fact, in 2019, Brazil eliminated its visas, and Argentina eliminated the requirement that US citizens pay a reciprocity fee). Also, thankfully, we can apply for most visas online. (Almost always easier than by mail).
Some Additional Posts About Travel Requirements
- Tourist Visas: How the US and Canadians Citizens Can Avoid Problems Entering and Staying For a Long-Time in a Foreign CountryHow long do USA and Canadian citizens usually have permission to travel in another country? What can you do if you want to stay longer? What are some other problems that might cause problems when you try to enter another country?
- An Easy Guide to Tourist Visas: What to Do If You Have to Apply In Advance For Tourist VisasApplying for a tourist visa in advance is usually not a big problem unless you need it in a hurry. Here are some tips to avoid potential problems for US and Canadian citizens if they need to get a visa in advance.
- Electronic Travel Authorizations and Tourist Visas: Answers to 3 Typical QuestionsFind out when you will be required to get a visa before traveling to another country. (Most are issued on arrival). Also, learn about electronic travel authorizations.
- Passport 101: Easy Answers to Frequently Asked QuestionsA series of tips about how to apply, replace, or renew your USA or Canadian Passport.
- Airport 101: Avoid Immigration, Customs, Airline Check-In, and Security ProblemsWithout a doubt, one of the most frustrating parts of living as a fifty-plus nomad is dealing with airports. In my five years traveling around the world, I encountered several issues I did not anticipate including finding the right terminal, not having proof of onward passage, and unexpected fees. This post helps you avoid some of my mistakes.